Thank God New Zealander’s are starting to cotton onto the awesomeness that is the hot hatch
Thirty years on from the original Golf GTi, the latest Mk VI version is as popular as ever here. Rightly so, here’s a car that will genuinely embarrass supercars on a winding, corrugated Kiwi road one day and take kids to their leafy-suburbia finger-painting classes the next.
The essence of hot hatchery is certainly alive and well within the VW camp. Topping the superb GTi is an all wheel drive Golf R which shares the 199kW power unit and drive train with Audi’s S3. One problem, four wheel drive adds weight and robs the Golf of some of its legendary agility. Long story short, the plain old front-drive GTi is more fun, despite having just 155kW under the bonnet.
But that’s not the end of the line when it comes to fast VW hatchbacks. Enter the Scirocco R, itself yet another modern take on an iconic seventies Vee Dub hot hatch. It takes the R-spec 2.0 litre, turbocharged engine – slightly detuned to 195kW – but yippee! Runs it through just the front wheels.
Running such generous dollops of torque (in Scirocco R’s case, 350Nm) through a front wheel drive configuration usually results in the torques steer wrestling with the driver for control; the Scirocco R keeps this in check with an electronic diff lock system (XDS) that releases the engine’s turning force with the control of a carefully moderated tap, rather than dumping bucket loads all at once.
The result? 0-100km/h in 5.5 seconds, top speed of 250km/h and a controlled power delivery that doesn’t snap your arms off when you exit corners.
And as it shares the Golf’s platform the chassis it’s predictably handy through the bends. Actually, it’s even more responsive thanks to the added rigidity of the two-door body configuration over the Golf’s four-door shell, tip the wheel into a corner and the Audi RS6-style wheels shod with 235/40/18R tyres grab the tar seal to perform an immediate shift in direction, the back end follows suit obediently with no chassis twist to absorb reaction times. You can upgrade the rigidity too, with an optional Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive suspension system, but that’s really overkill unless you attend the occasional track event.
The snappy handling matches turbo four pot’s kidney rupturing performance perfectly, but rack up the numbers on a suitable straight (200km/h will come and go in the blink of an eye, ahem, apparently) and that sensitivity can translate to a twitchy time of it that isn’t evident in the more supple Golf R. Not to worry, the huge R-specific stoppers are epic, too.
And while the three-door configuration is a justification driving enthusiasts can make, there are obvious compromises in practicality land. With a new baby, kiddie-seat friendliness is a new observation I make with test cars. No doubt, the deep rear buckets replicate the seventies-era Scirocco and look awesome doing it, but getting a baby in an out requires flexibility I lost around the time the original was in vogue. I could however fit my bulky stroller in the hatch, which is surprisingly generous, and kids who can load themselves into the rear seats should be comfy enough.
Then there’s the price. Practicality and price really shouldn’t factor with performance focussed cars, but I can’t help - unfairly perhaps - level these criticisms at the Scirocco R. Sure, there’s plenty of spec on offer: dual zone climate control, cosseting sports interior, fantastic touch-screen audio, five-star NCAP safety, six airbags and stability control. But as great a hot hatch it is, the Golf GTi still entertains immensely, includes much the same kit and offers improved day to day practicality for the average punter and doesn’t carry the Scirocco R’s $68,250 price tag.
If you’re a brand enthusiast, you’re likely to have a stronger affinity with the Golf GTi and probably will have guessed it remains the stronger all rounder. The Scirocco R is the best looking, best handling Volkswagen ever, no question about it. But it loses the appeal of a hot hatch you can use simply day to day. Nevertheless, rather than a hot hatch, if you’re in the market for a sports coupe but find the TT too girly, this will be your best bet.
Get to your nearest Volkswagen Dealer to find out more.